ASYLUM

PrintE-mail Written by John Townsend

In order to appreciate William Seabrook’s Asylum, a book first published in 1935, it is necessary to understand a little about the author. Seabrook was at heart an adventurer, but an adventurer keen to explore the darker and, as he saw it, more interesting aspects of human nature. His books covered topics such as Witchcraft, Haitian Voodoo and Devil Worship. He had a lifelong interest in the occult and sought out evidence to prove the validity of such practices, which he later declared not to have found. Seabrook is also credited with introducing the word zombie into popular culture. There is no doubt he was an interesting man but alongside his “academic” obsessions there were also more personal demons; Seabrook was an alcoholic.

In 1933, with the help of some friends, the author had himself committed to the Bloomingdale Mental Institution near New York and wrote about his seven month tenure there in Asylum. Despite the outwardly serious nature of the subject, being the author’s life threatening affliction, the book is a witty read. Seabrook is always candid and honest to a fault when recounting his thoughts and feelings, although he does admit his recollection of certain events to be somewhat cloudy. Behind the anecdotes though, you get the impression of a frustrated sadness in his words. Seabrook is effusive in his praise of much of the work undertaken by the staff at Bloomingdales, but there is a desperate sense of futility to it. At a time before Alcoholics Anonymous, incarceration was the only option open to those with a serious drink problem, and though acknowledged as a disease it was seen as one that could be cured completely. Seabrook was even advised upon release he could now safely drink again. He died just ten years later.

Despite the occasional “did they really just do that?” moments that will make your jaw drop open aghast, Asylum is a fun and entertaining read, and one that, like the institution it describes, once you get inside is difficult to get out of. An interesting account of an interesting man’s very personal experience.

ASYLUM / AUTHOR: WILLIAM SEABROOK / PUBLISHER: DOVER PUBLICATIONS / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 30TH


 

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